Google’s New Feature: “Trap My Contacts Now”

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Want to import your Gmail address book into Facebook? Google is happy to let you do that (although it doesn’t want to make it easy). But first, it wants you to be aware of what you’re doing — namely, that you are importing them into a place where you will never be able to get them back out again. Hence, the new message that greets anyone trying to use this feature, which has the sarcastic title: “Trap my contacts now.” In the serve-and-volley that has been going on between the two web giants over data portability in the past week, call this one a drop shot.

The Google message asks users: “Are you super sure you want to import your contact information for your friends into a service that won’t let you get it out?” and notes that the site the user was redirected from (Facebook’s name is never mentioned) “doesn’t allow you to re-export your data to other services, essentially locking up your contact data about your friends.” Google says it “strongly disagrees” with this kind of data protectionism, but is willing to let users export their information because it believes they should control what happens to it. The notice also contains a checkbox that allows a user to “register a complaint over data protectionism,” although it’s not clear what exactly that does.

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Just to recap what has been going on for the past few days, Google changed the terms of its contacts API, which third-party developers use to automatically import email address books from Gmail, so that users can find their friends on a network or service. The change required that anyone making use of this feature also allow users to export their data, including email addresses — and this was a clear shot at Facebook, which doesn’t allow this (although you can download names, wall posts, photos, etc.) Facebook responded by linking directly to Google’s download feature, which is why the new warning appears.

In the only official comment that has emerged from Facebook, platform engineer Mike Vernal suggested that Google is being hypocritical about data portability, and is only concerned about it because Facebook is more popular and is a competitive threat. According to Vernal, allowing users to export email addresses is something Google should be required to do, but not something Facebook should have to do — because users on Facebook control their own contact info, but not their friends.

As several sites have noted, however, Facebook happily allows users to bulk export the contact information for all their friends from the social network to partners such as Microsoft and Yahoo, but not to Google. So it appears that there is plenty of hypocrisy to go around — and even more tangible signs that Google and Facebook are in the middle of a social war, and your contact information is one of the main weapons.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Tambako the Jaguar

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